Defying expectations, Tigers seek another ACC road win

Clemson center Landry Nnoko fights for a ball at Georgia Tech Saturday. (AP Photo)

Clemson center Landry Nnoko fights for a ball at Georgia Tech Saturday. (AP Photo)

Clemson was picked 14th out of 15 ACC teams by the conference's media back in October.

Four months later and four regular season games left, the Tigers (17-9, 8-6 ACC) are still in play for a two-day bye at the ACC Tournament and positioned to finish no worse than the top half of the league.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell has said already he doesn't blame the ACC scribes for the faulty prognostication, as his team has improved 120 official RPI spots from their 2012-13 finish (currently No. 67).

They head to Wake Forest (14-13, 4-10) for Tuesday's 7 p.m. tip seeking quite the milestone for a senior-less squad - tying the school record for ACC road wins (5).

Clemson has captured victories at Boston College (62-60), Virginia Tech (56-49), Florida State (53-49) and Georgia Tech (63-55).

"It's a great feeling," junior forward K.J. McDaniels said, who averaged 18 points, six rebounds and two blocks per contest. "We feel like we stay collectively together when we go out on the road games and we got to go out and keep doing that. We feel like we can play with anybody, anywhere. We just go in on the court with no fear."

Last week, the Tigers had three in double-figures in consecutive games for the first time in ACC play. McDaniels and junior guard Damarcus Harrison were a part of both efforts, accounting for 42 percent of Clemson's points.

On Saturday, sophomore center Landry Nnoko put up double-digits in scoring for only the third time in ACC play, going toe-to-toe with Georgia Tech big Daniel Miller for 13 points.

"He was very good," Brownell said. "He was active at the rim and always does a solid job defensively. His length is a factor when we get him the ball in good enough position. He’s an improving offensive player.

"He’s not there yet, but he’s one of those guys who have improved a great deal."

Off the bench, sophomore forward Josh Smith added four points and four rebounds in his nine minutes on the court. Brownell sees his team rounding into shape at the right time.

“I know at Clemson we haven’t had a lot of road wins over the years,” he said, “but I am very proud of our team. We are maximizing our ability. We are playing at maximum level for us most nights. That’s what you want as a coach is for your guys to play to their ability level and compete.

"Hopefully we are feeling good about ourselves and now we have a chance to go get one at Wake.”

The opposite of a team "feeling good" right now? Wake Forest. They've lost seven in a row, but none more disconcerting than their last one.

After upsetting the Tar Heels at home (73-67) earlier this season, UNC dropped 105 on them Saturday in the Dean Dome, shooting 57 percent from the field. When asked where their defense was, Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik dead-panned, "Winston-Salem."

Likely in his fourth and final season at Wake, Bzdelik has a 48-73 record – and 0-5 against Brownell. The closest margin in their matchups was at Littlejohn earlier this season, a 61-53 Tigers win. Deacs leading scorer and sophomore guard Codi Miller McIntyre was held to six points, and he's coming off 0-for-7 shooting and 0-for-the-scoreboard game at North Carolina.

After losing 18-straight there prior to 2012, Clemson aims to string together consecutive wins at Lawrence Joel Coliseum for the first time since 1989-90.

For flickering NCAA Tourney hopes, the Tigers need every win they can get from the homestretch, with a lacking non-conference strength of schedule and a lone top-50 RPI win possible in the regular season (Pittsburgh, 3/8).

"We know to make an NCAA Tournament or something like that we'll have to play awfully well and win most – if not all our games," Brownell said. "That's fine. We're not really thinking in that way. We're focused on a week at a time. That's the way I've coached. We just focus on what week we have ahead of us and plan for it and prepare and play our best basketball every week.”

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Comments » 5

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

Beat Wake tomorrow night on the road and we have put ourselves in a really good spot for a NCAA bid. With the final 3 games at home we should be in real good shape. Maybe we can make up for playing so poorly up at Pittsburgh. If you are a glass three quarters full type of guy like me you be waiting to see how high we are gonna be seeded!!!

SoCalTiger writes:

in response to tigerrob44#291802:

Beat Wake tomorrow night on the road and we have put ourselves in a really good spot for a NCAA bid. With the final 3 games at home we should be in real good shape. Maybe we can make up for playing so poorly up at Pittsburgh. If you are a glass three quarters full type of guy like me you be waiting to see how high we are gonna be seeded!!!

I am hoping for an NCAA bid too, but ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi says that Clemson's out-of-conference strength of schedule score of 266 pretty much dooms their chances for a bid no matter how many ACC wins they have. Unless they can win the ACC championship they will probably be in the NIT.

BrandonRink writes:

in response to SoCalTiger:

I am hoping for an NCAA bid too, but ESPN bracket guru Joe Lunardi says that Clemson's out-of-conference strength of schedule score of 266 pretty much dooms their chances for a bid no matter how many ACC wins they have. Unless they can win the ACC championship they will probably be in the NIT.

I'd agree for the most part, but if they can reach 12-6 in ACC play and knock off a top-four ACC team to reach Saturday in Greensboro...they'll certainly be in the discussion.

BlueRidgeBengal writes:

it may help if Coastal Carolina and Davidson win their conferences, but who knows. i know ive said it before but the Auburn loss right before Christmas break will haunt us.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

I'd agree for the most part, but if they can reach 12-6 in ACC play and knock off a top-four ACC team to reach Saturday in Greensboro...they'll certainly be in the discussion.

They don't have a signature win away from Littlejohn. That's what they'd be getting if they can reach Saturday March 15. They've beaten up on the bottom of the ACC and they lost some non-conference games that could've really helped their cause.

They can't lose again until March 15 at the earliest. And even then they need tourney locks from 1-bid conferences like Wichita State to win their conference tournament. And that still might not be enough.

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